Skyhook and Eye-Fi Hook Up to Automatically Geotag Your Photos

5/12/08Follow @wroush

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records the IDs of nearby Wi-Fi networks. As the photos are being uploaded later, the software communicates with Skyhook’s servers—which contain a huge database of the locations of Wi-Fi networks around the country—and uses the recorded network IDs to calculate a latitude and longitude for each picture. That data is then inserted into the EXIF section of the data file for each image. (EXIF, the Exchangeable Image Format, was developed as a way to save information about the time and date an image was taken, the camera’s exposure settings, and the like.)

“It’s pretty amazing stuff,” says Ted Morgan, CEO at Skyhook. “A lot of the camera folks are trying to figure out how to add wireless for data transfer, and how to add geotagging. They struggle because there is no good way to put GPS into a digital camera—most pictures are taken indoors, where GPS doesn’t reach, and the power-up and startup requirements for GPS are really prohibitive. But the Eye-Fi Explore works with any camera that takes an SD card.”

The Eye-Fi Explore comes with another feature that makes it a significant improvement over the company’s first-generation cards. In the past, Eye-Fi’s system only worked with home wireless networks. But starting in June, the Explore card will allow cameras to connect to the Wayport network of commercial Wi-Fi hotspots. Wayport runs networks in more than 10,000 locations around the world, including McDonald’s restaurants, Hertz rental locations, and the lobbies of many hotel chains. Just turn on the camera within range of a Wayport access point, and the card will automatically upload photos to the Web; you can even set the system to download the photos later to your computer.

Along with geotagging, the ability to upload photos from public hotspots was the feature most requested by Eye-Fi owners, according to the company. Personally, I wonder how many Eye-Fi users will go out of their way to find Wayport locations. I’d be much more likely to use such a service myself if it worked at Starbucks hotspots—I rely on the chain for their Wi-Fi connectivity as much as for their coffee. But I can understand why that isn’t yet part of Eye-Fi’s offerings, given that Starbucks has ditched its old Wi-Fi provider, T-Mobile, and is in the middle of a nationwide changeover to AT&T.

Meanwhile, the Eye-Fi Explore seems to offer the easiest way yet for average digital photographers to map their pictures. The card goes on sale June 6 at retail websites including Amazon, Apple, and Buy.com. The suggested retail price will be $129—which is way more than a plain 2-gigabyte SD card will cost you, but hey, it’s got a radio inside.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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